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A solid, functional team is important in any workplace, but it’s especially critical in a small business environment. People don’t have to be best friends or get together outside of work to make a cohesive team, though of course it doesn’t hurt if employees have a good rapport. But the most important thing is that team members work well together, so find out how to maximize your group’s effectiveness.
1. Figure out why things aren’t working.
Poor team dynamics don’t necessarily come from people just not liking each other. In fact, you can be great friends with someone and still get annoyed with, say, his or her indecisiveness when it comes to choosing a restaurant. Differences in decision-making styles also happen to be a major roadblock to healthy group dynamics.
A case study by Anderson Sabourin Consulting Inc. looked at an executive team whose poor group dynamics were stalling progress and negatively affecting the rest of the company. By coming together and analyzing each team member’s attentional and interpersonal styles, they were better able to understand each person’s behavioral preferences. Getting to know each other better made it easier for the team to figure out new ways to communicate and make decisions so that they weren’t holding up the rest of the company.
2. Make each team member feel equally valuable.
The old saying “there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” might be cheesy, but it’s absolutely true. The New York Times Magazine looked at findings from researchers at Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T., and Union College who were trying to figure out why some teams excelled at every task they were given, while other teams failed at everything.
No matter the group dynamic, the two biggest findings about successful teams were that, first, each person spoke approximately the same total amount of time during the task, and second, each team member seemed to be sensitive to how the other members were feeling. On this kind of team, where everyone is contributing and their fellow members are conscious of everyone’s feelings, people feel like they are valued members of the group. In contrast, teams with a few members who do all the talking and don’t consider the group didn’t perform as well. And it’s reasonable to assume that some of the team members were left feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with the experience.
So pay attention to how your teams interact. Are there one or two people who always dominate the conversation? Does it look like some people are frustrated or annoyed in meetings? If so, it’s important to set the right tone, perhaps by going around asking every person to contribute an idea or opinion about a certain issue. Because if the only opportunity for people to speak up requires them to compete with a dominant personality, it might never happen.
3. Enact meaningful change.
If something isn’t working on the teams you assembled or manage, it’s up to you to fix what’s wrong (because the teams certainly won’t). The Harvard Business Review suggests a variety of tactics, from simple shifts like rearranging seating to making larger policy changes, like letting go of outdated rules about the way meetings are run. Experiment and figure out what works best for your team, but the one thing you shouldn’t do is ignore a problem. Because the one tactic that has absolutely been proven ineffective is doing nothing.